Friday, February 12, 2010

New NC Sustainable Local Food Advisory Council convenes

North Carolina's brand new Sustainable Local Food Advisory Council met for the first time on Feb 2nd in Raleigh. The Council is charged with making recommendations to the NC General Assembly about how to grow and strengthen North Carolina's sustainable and local food system.

Thank you to everyone who helped Toxic Free NC and our partners at the NC Sustainable Food Systems Coalition advocate for the legislation that created this Council last year. Nice work, folks - we couldn't have done it without you!

Below are some of my notes and impressions from the meeting, but here's the super short version: The Council is a very impressive group of people, and while they didn't actually get to start doing much of anything yet in their first meeting, my sense coming out of it was one of sincere optimism for what they'll achieve.

* Lots of people: All but one Council member was in attendance, and this with the roads still a bit dicey across the state because of snow a few days earlier. Nice! Lots of other people also came to watch - the Department of Agriculture had to pull out more chairs, and it was still standing-room-only.

* Input from the public (or lack thereof). Open meeting laws mean that all the Council's meetings must be open to the public, and that there must be minutes or recordings also made available to the public - keep an eye on this website for meeting agendas and notes. Anything sent to or from the Council about this body is also public record. But, there was no time for public comment at the Council's meeting. There's a way to submit comments over their website, which will then become part of public record, but what's the plan for actually reading and following up on them? That hasn't been discussed yet, but based on attendance at the first meeting, it sure seems like North Carolinians have a lot to say to this Council!

* The Council members. Everyone on the Council introduced themselves and their motivations for serving at this meeting, which made me think a lot about the Council's make-up and how that will affect the recommendations they make. The full membership list is posted here. My observations:
FARMERS: There are 8 farmers and one person in commercial fishing on the Council by my count - mostly small or medium-scale, and mostly organic or sustainable. I think this will give the Council's work a solid grounding. There's lots to talk about, but there's also lots to DO, and farmers tend to be doers, so this is a good thing indeed.

THEMES: One big theme in many of the Council members' introductions was a desire to preserve working farmland. Commissioner Troxler, Andrew Brannan (Farm Transitions Network), Dania Davy (Land Loss Prevention Project), and John Day (NC Association of County Commissioners) all spoke directly to the issue of keeping farmers on their land and farming during their introductions.
Another big theme that I heard in Council member introductions was improving access to healthy and affordable food, especially as it pertains to combating childhood obesity. Members who mentioned this specifically as part of their introductions include Dr. Jeffrey Engel (State Health Director), Dr. Lynn Harvey (Department of Public Instruction, Child Nutrition Services), Dr. Alice Ammerman (Center for Health Promotion and Disease Control at UNC-CH), Earline Middleton (Food Bank of Central & Eastern NC), Mary James (Dogwood Farms & Willing Workers Cooperative), and Willy Phillips (Full Circle Crab Company).

DIVERSITY: The Council is a very diverse group in terms of expertise and geography, and it could be a lot worse on gender and race. By my (strictly superficial) count, the Council is made up of 18 Caucasian men, 5 Caucasian women, and 3 African American women. That isn't nearly enough women or people of color to fairly represent our state's population, but it's more than I'm used to seeing in such contexts. Conclude from that information what you will! Notably absent are Latinos, farm workers, or anyone who could speak knowledgeably to the perspectives of those groups.
* "This is not a fad. It's a force." The Council got a little pep talk from John Vollmer of Vollmer Farms. John spoke mostly about his recent trip to New England, and his vision that North Carolina, like Vermont, could be gaining farms instead of losing them, and that we could produce enough food to feed our state year-round. Vermont's food system is like a farm-fresh tomato, he said, a tomato that's so good, it makes you wonder why you ever bothered buying lousy tomatoes out of season at the grocery store! We don't yet really know what we're missing in NC, but once we get a taste, we'll never go back. He also addressed Commissioner Troxler directly to say, "This is not a fad. It's a force."

* Leadership & Super-fast Robert's Rules. The final order of business in the first Council meeting was discussing leadership structures for the Council and electing a chair. Commissioner Troxler was elected chair and Nancy Creamer vice-chair in rapid succession. In fact, it was very rapid - the Council suddenly swung into Robert's Rules at this point, full throttle, and it moved really fast! We really hope that Council members weren't too caught off guard by the sudden transition. In any case, from the discussion around these elections, it sounded like the plan is to tap some other Council members to serve on a leadership committee that will work with the chairs to set agendas and coordinate subcommittees.

That's it! Thanks again to everyone who helped to bring this Council into being, and a huge thanks to everyone who is volunteering to serve on this Council. Please stay tuned for more updates.


  1. It appears to me that the list of council members you linked to is incorrect and/or incomplete. There weren't 9 farmers on there, your name wasn't listed there, nor was Debbie Roos or Linda Shaw, both of whom I think are on the council. Is there an actual correct functioning list?

  2. Hey there anonymous! That is the right list - I'm not on the Council, nor are Debbie Roos or Linda Shaw - I don't know Linda, but I know that Debbie was in the audience, as was I!
    There are 6 farmers officially, but at least 2 other members are farmers as well: Phil Hudson from The Grange and Uli Bennewitz. I'm also counting Willy Phillips in my "farmer" tally, who's in commercial fishing - not a farmer, but a food producer, so I should probably change that wording.
    Hope this clears up any confusion!

  3. PS: Debbie Roos was nominated for the Council's seat representing Cooperative Extension, but sadly not appointed!